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Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: 'Our Souls at Night'

Our Souls at Night
By Kent Haruf
Literary fiction
May 2015
ISBN: 978-1101875896

Addie Moore has been widowed for years. Her only son and his family live out of town. She keeps fairly active but she’s lonely. So one day, out of the blue, she calls a neighbor. Louis Waters, a retired high school English teacher, lost his wife years ago. His only daughter lives out of town as well.

Since Addie and Louis live in Holt, Colorado, the setting of all of Kent Haruf’s unembellished novels, where people tend to create makeshift families, they won’t be alone all the time in his final novel, Our Souls at Night.
The worst part of being alone, Addie tells Louis, is there is no one to talk to at night. So what does he think about coming over to spend the same night, to sleep in the same bed, no obligations, no sex? Well, Louis thinks about it. And he heads over.
Their unorthodox relationship has some in town buzzing and others cheering. But Addie says she’s way past worrying about others and it’s time Louis did the same:

"I told you I don’t want to live like that anymore -- for other people, what they think, what they believe. I don’t think it’s the way to live. It isn’t for me anyway."

Over the course of a summer, they tell each other secrets and stories from their lives, secure that neither will judge the other harshly or wrongly. This includes a huge mistake Louis made and still regrets. He also believes that mistake says something about his character.

It’s not something he wishes for his own daughter. He wishes the opposite for her:
"I wish you would find somebody who’s a self-starter. Somebody who would go to Italy with you and get up on a Saturday morning and take you up in the mountains and get snowed on and come home and be filled up with it all."
When Addie’s young grandson is sent to spend the summer with her, because his parents are fighting, Louis adds wonderful experiences to the child’s world -- watching a nest of newborn mice, learning how to play catch, going camping and having a dog.
Trouble could come from many sources -- their ages, their children, even changing feelings. When trouble does arrive, it is infuriating, all the more because it is entirely plausible. Family members don’t always wish the best, and only the best, for each other. This seems especially true when past hurts become deeply ingrained grudges. Some people just don’t get over things. They let their hurts fester until their souls are poisoned. And then, sometimes, they try to infect others with the same venom. Even the people who love them.

Haruf gets this across calmly, quietly, letting the characters and their actions speak for themselves without much exposition. This narrative style may seem too quiet and nondescript for some. But when the emotional wallops come, they are all the stronger for the lack of hyperbole.

In this, his final novel, Haruf also has a grand meta moment when Addie and Louis talk about dramatic adaptations of stories set in their town by some writer. But they couldn’t be true. They’ve lived in Holt for years and never heard about two old bachelor brothers who took in a young pregnant woman.

For readers such as this one, who have adored Haruf’s novels since that story, Plainsong, it was a sweet moment of farewell.
©2015 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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